Jun. 28 – China and Vietnam are once again feuding over the South China Sea as Beijing fails to make progress with its neighbors on issues of territorial sovereignty in the region.
Vietnam recently passed a new law that claims indisputable sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands, to which China quickly expressed outrage.
“Vietnam’s Maritime Law, declaring sovereignty and jurisdiction over the Paracel and Spratly islands, is a serious violation of China’s territorial sovereignty,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
China further reinforced its claims by increasing the level of governance on the disputed islands.
The situation has now escalated further with China’s state-ran oil firm, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), offering nine new oil-exploration blocs within Vietnam’s 200-mile economic exclusive zone (EEZ). The nine areas collectively total more than 160,000 square kilometers in size. With oil reserves in the area estimated at 160-210 billion barrels, and gas reserves at 16 trillion cubic meters, energy exploration has proven to be a geopolitical fraught venture.
Vietnam has radically decried CNOOC’s oil bid, and requests that China cease the invitation of international bids for the energy blocs. Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Luong Thanh Nghi stated that CNOOC’s activity within their EEZ is a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty and jurisdiction. PetroVietnam, Vietnam’s state-ran oil explorer, further announced that it will “unwaveringly oppose” any foreign companies that seek to sign contracts with China, noting that the Vietnamese government “will not allow any implementation of these exploration activities.”
In reaction to this outcry, China emphasized that Vietnam should respect the bilateral agreements regarding maritime disputes.
“China and Vietnam have reached many agreements regarding the settlement of maritime disputes. We hope Vietnam will respect these agreements and avoid taking any action that may complicate the matter,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said. He further explained that China is “committed to properly settling disputes through negotiations and joint exploitation.”
It is unsurprising that CNOOC’s bids came only days after Vietnam passed a law claiming indisputable sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands. Due to the sensitive nature of the issue, it is unlikely that any foreign company would be willing to enter into an agreement with China with the political risks such as they are. This suggests that CNOOC may have been forced by the Chinese government to make these new bids, as any economic gains decrease as the situation becomes more geopolitically charged.
It can only be concluded that this move will further degrade Sino-Vietnamese relations. With pre-existing territorial disputes already ongoing between the two countries, this new development will only act to increase tension within the South China Sea.